This is what we know about a story that continues to grow and may not go away anytime soon.
We know Mike Tomlin has appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one. He's one of the best young coaches in the NFL. We know that Tomlin wanted offensive coordinator Bruce Arians back. Multiple league sources confirm a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that Tomlin told his staff Arians was returning. Arians, I am told, then informed friends around the league of the same news.
This is also what we know. The president of the Steelers, Art Rooney II, overruled Tomlin on keeping Arians. Sources confirm this as well. We also know that no one on the Steelers has denied any of this and they've had plenty of opportunity. There's been nothing but extremely loud silence from Tomlin in particular.
Now, in the future, my guess is Tomlin will play the good soldier and at some point say everything is cool. Yet no one will believe Tomlin, and now this has become one of the bigger stories of the offseason.
It's a story that has been lost amid the never-ending post-Super Bowl analysis and the ongoing questions about whether Peyton Manning's neurons are firing properly. It's huge nonetheless. These are the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the all-time classiest franchises in the history of sports. Steelers owners don't publicly overreact. Steelers owners don't force their Super Bowl winning head coaches to make staff changes (allegedly). When speaking with NFL team officials, no one can remember the last time a highly successful coach was forced to make staff changes by the team's owner (allegedly). That's because I'm fairly certain it has never happened in recent league history.
League types aren't the only ones with questions about this entire situation. The Pittsburgh media is equally puzzled.
Part of this story is about Tomlin, but another aspect could be a shift in how Steelers ownership handles its business. I don't believe the founding father of the organization, Art Rooney, would have done this to Tomlin. I know Dan Rooney. I'm certain he wouldn't. The Steelers have had three coaches in 43 years. That's a remarkable track record of stability, perspective and patience.
Not all of those years have been perfect. There have been cracks in the Steeler veneer, but not like this. The current owner of the team, Art Rooney II, has made Tomlin appear weak by forcing changes on his staff.
Rooney II by many accounts is a good man like the Rooneys before him, but there might be a little Jerry Jones in him. Rooney was quoted after the season ended as saying he wanted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to "tweak his game." Not sure what that means, but Roethlisberger has Super Bowl appearances and is one of the elite throwers in the sport. Just can't see John Mara telling Eli Manning to tweak his game.
Not only was Arians apparently forced out (remember he retired, but only days later was hired by Indianapolis) but the Steelers hired Todd Haley to replace him. Haley is a combustible presence, and he doesn't have the approval of Roethlisberger. At least not yet.
The Steelers were fine. They were stable. They didn't need to make these moves. They weren't 4-12 last season; they went 12-4. The only thing that stopped them was a gimpy Roethlisberger and the fact Tim Tebow exposed Troy Polamalu's occasionally clumsy pass covering skills. That's it. The offense wasn't the problem. The Steelers could have easily won a Super Bowl this year with Arians. Adding Haley into the mix is like tossing a stick of dynamite into a placid lake.
"I've gotten a lot of calls and texts and emails from people around the league, both good and bad about him," Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette. "Everybody has an opinion, as we all know, and they're letting me know what their interaction with him was -- good, bad and indifferent. I've heard a lot of things, and I'm looking forward to meeting him and forming my own opinion."
Wow, that's quite the endorsement.
Again, I expect Tomlin at some point to publicly endorse the release of Arians and hiring of Haley once he meets with the media and they're allowed to ask questions. Tomlin's performance will earn him at least a Golden Globe. He'll beat out Clooney. No, this isn't a Steeler civil war but it sure does seem like things aren't very civil.